Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Johannes and Elfriede

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Johannes and Elfriede

Article excerpt

Johannes and Elfriede's flight from Germany in 1938-1939 was the culmination of years of resistance to Nazi ideology and their ever-increasing revulsion at what Germany had become. When they did finally decide to leave, the obstacles to getting out were daunting. The letters in this book tell the story of Johannes and Elfriede's passage out of the homeland that had become intolerable to them to their new life in a new world.

Johannes Höber (1904-1977) and Elfriede Fischer (1904-1999) made a strikingly good-looking young couple when they met at the age of nineteen. It was 1923 and they were first-year students at the University of Freiburg. Although of slight build, Johannes was dark and handsome- black hair, brown eyes, olive complexion and a strong, inquiring gaze. Elfriede was light and very pretty-light brown hair, blue eyes, pale skin. Her eyes were often downcast, but then she would surprise you by looking up at you with her direct, intelligent gaze. Johannes was outgoing and gregarious, often utterly charming, with an air of confidence unusual for his age, a confidence that could occasionally devolve into stubbornness and arrogance. Elfriede was quieter, with a manner that was at once shy and reserved and yet self-possessed. She had a slightly sad air that veiled a ferocious determination to achieve what she set out to do. In personality and temperament they were quite different, and in some ways they were mismatched. The glue that held their love together was their intelligence and their commitment to the world of ideas, the world of the mind, the world of sociology, economics, and political science. They both embraced an intense analytic intellectualism centered on the public sphere. They engaged the political and social issues of their time with deliberation and never ceased in their struggle to understand the world around them and to effect positive change in the society in which they lived. Johannes was a more political person and Elfriede more intellectual, but for both of them, lives focused on public affairs, social policy, and the resolution of social injustice were the natural course of existence.

In June 1924, less than a year after they met, Johannes and Elfriede became engaged. They were just 20. The next year Elfriede insisted that she and Johannes attend different universities. It was common at that time for students to move from one university to another within Germany, and Elfriede wanted to test the strength of Johannes' commitment. She transferred to the University of Berlin while Johannes attended the University of Kiel. In March 1925, Johannes joined Elfriede again at the University of Berlin, where he became a delegate to the student senate [Allgemeine Studentenaußschuss or ASM]. It was the first of many political activities for him.

In 1925, Johannes and Elfriede transferred to Heidelberg University, but a year later they were separated again, this time because Johannes was selected for a year of study at the London School of Economics. He was the first German foreign exchange student in England following World War I. That year in England was pivotal for Johannes. Most significantly, he became fluent in English. In addition, he became steeped in democratic socialism and the sense of being a member of an international liberal political community. In this period he also became a correspondent for the monthly journal of the International Metalworkers Union [Internationaler Metallarbeiter-Gewerkschaft], introducing him to both journalism and the trade union movement.

Returning to Germany in the fall of 1927, Johannes plunged into the tumultuous politics of Heidelberg University, which reflected the political upheavals then battering Germany. In the years following World War I, German democracy developed a full spectrum of vigorous political parties from Communists on the left; through Social Democrats, centrist, and religious parties; to aristocratic, militaristic, and fascist parties on the right. …

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